Snedeker wins Tour Championship, FedEx Cup

By Doug FergusonSeptember 23, 2012, 11:11 pm

ATLANTA – With the biggest round of his career, Brandt Snedeker won something far more valuable than money Sunday.

He proved to himself he could beat the best in the world.

Photos: Tour Championship

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Snedeker knew his best chance to be the FedEx Cup champion was to win the Tour Championship, no simple task with East Lake as tough as ever and Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods going after the same prize.

Snedeker was the only player in the last five groups to break par.

He answered the final challenge with three big birdies on the back nine, building such a big lead that his final tee shot sailed into the grandstands to the left of the 18th green and it didn't even matter. Snedeker still closed with a 2-under 68 for a three-shot win in the Tour Championship, and a $10 million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup.

But this was never about money.

''I think it solidifies what I already know,'' Snedeker said. ''I think when I play my best golf, my best golf is some of the best in the world. I've never had more confidence in myself than I have the last five weeks, and I made sure that I kept telling myself that all day. I am one of the best players in the world. This is supposed to happen. It's OK to feel nervous, and no matter what I feel today, everybody else in the field feels exactly the same way I do.

''So go out there and get it done. I did a great job of that.''

McIlroy, the best player in golf this year and the No. 1 seed going into the Tour Championship, faded early by dropping four shots in a four-hole span on the front nine. So did Woods, who already was 3 over on his round before making his first birdie on the par-5 ninth.

Snedeker wound up with a three-shot victory over Justin Rose (71) to win the Tour Championship, his second win this year and a trophy that came with $1.44 million. Add the $10 million bonus from the FedEx Cup, and it's the richest payoff in golf.

Big deal.

The 31-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., calls that kind of money ''crazy talk ... like winning the lottery.'' Far greater perspective came from a 30-minute hospital visit Sunday morning with Tucker Anderson, the son of his swing coach who was critically injured in a car accident and is in a responsive coma.

''I asked him if he thought I was going to beat Rory McIlroy, and he gave me a wink,'' Snedeker said.

He beat McIlroy out of the FedEx Cup, and everyone else in his way at East Lake. Ryan Moore was tied for the lead with birdies on the 14th and 15th holes, only to make bogey on the last three holes for a 70 to tie for third with Luke Donald (67).

McIlroy had won the last two playoff events and three of his last four tournaments dating to his record eight-shot win at the PGA Championship. He still is virtually a lock to be voted PGA Tour player of the year, but he had to settle for second place - and a $3 million bonus - in the FedEx Cup.

And so ends the most successful year yet in the FedEx Cup - four wildly entertaining playoff events packed with the biggest names, even if the No. 1 player in the world wound up at No. 2.

''I'm a little disappointed, but at the same time, Brandt really deserves to win,'' McIlroy said. ''He played the best golf out of anyone. He knew what he needed to do. He needed to come in here and win. He controlled his own destiny, just like I did. And he was able to come and do that. So because of that, he really deserves it.''

How can Snedeker explain winning the FedEx Cup over a player who won twice during the playoffs?

''Life is all about timing,'' he said, grinning.

Snedeker, who finished on 10-under 270, won for the fourth time in his career and moved into the top 10 in the world for the first time.

It also was his first time winning with a share of the lead going into the last day. In his previous three wins, he came from five shots, six shots and seven shots behind, the latter at Torrey Pines this year.

That's what made Sunday feel more valuable than the cash. That's what he takes to the Ryder Cup next week at Medinah, where no one can question why U.S. captain Davis Love III picked him for the team.

''I'm a lot better under pressure than I gave myself credit for,'' Snedeker said. ''I learned that over the last four weeks. I've had a lot of pressure the last four weeks and a bunch of different stuff going on in my life. To be able to focus in and do what I did was pretty impressive.''

Snedeker joins Woods (twice), Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk and Bill Haas as winners of the FedEx Cup in its six-year history.

It was an emotional week in so many ways for Snedeker, already a high-strung personality. His father, Larry, flew in to watch final round at East Lake, only the second tournament he has attended since having a liver transplant last year. And then came the visit with Tucker.

''It just made me realize ... as much as I made today out be important, how unimportant it really is,'' he said. ''It got me focused on the small stuff, which I did a great job of doing today.''

But he delivered some big shots - a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 8, just two holes after he dumped his tee shot into the water on the par-3 sixth and made double bogey; the 18-foot birdie putt on No. 13 that gave him momentum on the back nine; and a chip-in for birdie from short of the 17th green that effectively clinched it.

''I had complete confidence in what I was doing,'' Snedeker said.

Rose was within one shot on the back nine, but he never caught up after Snedeker's big birdie on the 13th. Rose will look back on the final round and regret a series of missed putts, mostly for birdies and one for par, all of them costly. He missed four putts inside 10 feet.

''He's mentally tough, Brandt,'' Rose said. ''It's kind of a different pressure, playing for $10 million. It gets in your head more than other golf tournaments. Other golf tournaments, it's more routine. But this week, it's not routine. We talk about it all year long, and suddenly you have to walk the walk. And he did a great job of that today.''

Snedeker, McIlroy and Woods were separated by four shots going into the final round. All any of them had to do was win to capture the FedEx Cup.

Woods, who was four shots behind, was the first to leave the picture. He missed the first fairway with a 3-wood and made bogey, hit into the water on the par-3 sixth hole and was never a factor the rest of the way. He birdied the last hole for a 72 and finished eight shots behind in a tie for eighth.

''I just didn't have it this weekend,'' Woods said.

McIlroy, three off the lead, also came undone early. He had 11 consecutive rounds in the 60s during the FedEx Cup playoff, but with a strong breeze and a fierce golf course, that was bound to end. He sped the process along by getting caught up in the rough on No. 4 for bogey, hitting into the water on the sixth for double bogey, and driving into a bunker on the next hole for yet another bogey. He shot a 74 to finish nine strokes back.

The toughest part for Snedeker is figuring out what to do with such a windfall. The only thing he has ever splurged on was his home in Nashville, which he said was ''not grandiose.'' He still drives the SUV he bought when he first joined the PGA Tour in 2006.

''I'm not by any means a flashy guy,'' he said. ''Of anybody that I know, I do not need $11 million. So there are going to be things we can do to really help people. So that's the way I look at it. This is unbelievable to be financially stable for the rest of my career. As long as I'm not an idiot, I should be fine, really. I really think we can make a difference and help a lot of people out in Nashville and Tennessee and the surrounding areas.''

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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”

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Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:11 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.

He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.

Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.

“I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”

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A performance fit for a King

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:08 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 40 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.

So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just won the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the scrum, he was instead asked to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.

“Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”

But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.

“Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.

The connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.

Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.

Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.

Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”

McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.

“I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.

And entertained, of course.

Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy recalled with a chuckle.

“And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’

McIlroy laughed at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.

During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.

But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, when he was admittedly searching.

“The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.

McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.

“He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.

Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.

And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.

“The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career. 

Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.

Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.

Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.

“I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”

Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.

“He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

“It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.

But after the past 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.

There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.

A kiss for his wife, Erica.

A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.

The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.

“Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”

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McIlroy remembers Arnie dinner: He liked A-1 sauce on fish

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 1:06 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Fresh off a stirring victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy offered a pair of culinary factoids about two of the game’s biggest names.

McIlroy regretted not being able to shake Palmer’s hand behind the 18th green after capping a three-shot win with a Sunday 64, but with the trophy in hand he reflected back on a meal he shared with Palmer at Bay Hill back in 2015, the year before Palmer passed away.

“I knew that he liked A-1 sauce on his fish, which was quite strange,” McIlroy said. “I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A-1 sauce?’ And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ He said, ‘No, for me.’”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

A few minutes later, McIlroy revealed that he is also a frequent diner at The Woods Jupiter, the South Florida restaurant launched by Tiger Woods. In fact, McIlroy explained that he goes to the restaurant every Wednesday with his parents – that is, when he’s not spanning the globe winning golf tournaments.

Having surveyed the menu a few times, he considers himself a fan.

“It’s good. He seems pretty hands-on with it,” McIlroy said. “Tuna wontons are good, the lamb lollipops are good. I recommend it.”